Making & the corporate office

(This was originally written for and published in last month’s in Andrew Sleigh’s beautiful zine Hot Glue)

make_zine

I’ve worked for all sorts of businesses: large, medium and small and they all share a common aspiration: to be more like start-ups. You can’t swing a cat without taking part in a meeting where organisations wonder how to become more agile, fun and disruptive like start-ups appear to be. The maker movement has created a whole new set of aspirations.

To make means to invent, to be engaged in the manufacturing of new ideas and products. It means to act in the world, with your hands and with tools which are cheaper and easier to access than ever before. This is such an important idea even Obama announced a National Day of Making. “Makers” describes the collective notion of people solving problems together but alone too. The ideology of making is very much about learning step by step, using new tools and trying things that have never been tried before. This makes a lot of business sense. By building a maker-friendly environment a business can increase their competitiveness, support employee training and identify talent among the various layers of management. It supports the idea of organisations as meritocratic environments of innovation and not political or bureaucratic ones. More often than not though there is a little bit of cargo culture happening inside already creative businesses who get on the maker bangwagon.

Someone buys 3D printers only to have them sit there being unused. They build “workshops” which are essentially a meeting room turned into a storage unit for the latest gadgets on Kickstarter. They run hackathons where more post-its get used than solder. They have curated showrooms to show other people’s work. In short they don’t end up making at all. Building a maker-friendly environment is a holistic exercise of redesigning your own internal culture. Here are some easy first steps to help you do this.

 

Building a maker space

You have to create a space that is going to be both useful and used often. This may be tricky when you may be running out of meeting rooms, but control the urge to make this anything other than a dedicated space for work that isn’t meetings. This space shouldn’t be “bookable”. It should be open for people to use whenever they like. If they want a meeting, they can go somewhere else. A lot of indirect value is derived by working next to someone building something quietly. Make sure this space isn’t anywhere near people working on laptops as the noise of laser cutters and 3D printers, sawing and generally making is going to be disruptive to them and you don’t want to create a culture that says that the noisy people aren’t working as hard as the others.

Buy tables and chairs on wheels that can be moved around easily. Have power sockets on the floor and avoid carpet (no one likes to vacuum random chips and cables). Make sure you have lots of natural light coming in (don’t set this up in the basement, this isn’t the 90s) and whiteboards everywhere. Add some lockers and shelves so people can leave projects nearby or stored safely out of reach. The visual accumulation of work is how progress is felt on a project and in a space. This is good. You can clean things up when you get to the end of a project.

When you’re not sure about what to put in your maker space, let people bring their own things, you might find out your organisation is full of secret tinkerers. Let your organisation shape the type of making you do, don’t let yourself be influenced by visual lifestyle maker culture. Most of the 3D printers you see in offices never get used.

 

Train & hire well

When you’re making a maker space, the first challenge is to not create a knowledge gap inside your organisation between people who don’t know how to make things and people who have been tinkering on weekends for years. Instead of creating ghettos of geeks, you want to train your entire organisation in using the tools you end up working with. You’d be surprised how many people can’t even work a power drill. If every new staff gets an induction in the space and gets an hour or so with someone who is using the space to make something, you are creating a link between your day to day job and the act of making. You’re allowing people with no technical experience to understand the creative and innovative potential of making rather than rule it out as “a waste of time”. You are also creating champions for the space whose work can be seen as it grows and changes. Keep the space really organised, and if you can afford it, have a technician take care of the space and ordering things as ideas emerge so you can keep the tools in the space relevant and interesting.

 

Champion the work

This could be out of a text book on social media, but championing the work you do inside the maker space has to start with very small everyday actions. A good way to start is having demo times once a week where the business comes together in that space and gets an update on what is being built. People can ask questions of the maker and propose projects they might want to work on to find collaborators. This meeting has to happen in the space as it gives it credit and says that this is part of doing business. Building a visual history of the work done is important. Starting an Instagram account for the space which people can post to and use the same tag is a great way to spread the word across staff and the outside world. Printing out pictures of new tools and posting them in the kitchen means people can share the progress and improvements at their own pace. Not everyone in your organisation is a maker but they should know what’s going on too. Avoid long newsletters, no one reads them now. If the work done isn’t mission critical, create a blog for the space which has a different identity to the rest of the business so employees can create their own voice through it and can gather interest from the wider community and potentially present it at tradeshows and conferences.

 

Making is as much about a process of interacting with space and tools as a way to produce new ideas. Ignore the people aspect of this and you end up with a glorified meeting room. Apply too much pressure on the space being worth the investment and you strangle good ideas before they have the time to blossom. These types of spaces are crucial to organisations who want to foster a renewed sense of identity, creativity and fun in their team, but they are hard work. On the other hand, nothing ventured, nothing gained. You’ll find that if your maker space is successful, new ideas will be brought forward, prototyped well and people will collaborate with each other more, a real maker community.

imago

IoT Insurance Startup Competition

We’re working in collaboration with Imago Techmedia on a startup friendly competition which will run alongside their IoT Big Data: Insurance conference early next year. We’re looking for companies who are building IoT products for the insurance industry:

Are you developing a connected product that is suited to the insurance sector? Then this is your chance to showcase your work on January 29th at the IOT Big Data: Insurance conference in London.

This unique industry conference will feature a selection of fifteen startups during the day who will get a chance to win three cash prizes.

You have until December 15th to apply to be one of the startups who showcases on the day.

What is IOT Big Data: Insurance

IOT Big Data: Insurance is the first conference dedicated to bringing together the insurance sector with the world of the Internet of Things. Connected devices, cars, wearables and homes will change the way the industry engages with its consumer and industrial customers. The data generated by these devices will bring with it, great change, challenges and opportunities. On January 29th, 2015, Imago TechMedia, the conference originators, will bring the best technology leaders and most promising startups together to share their knowledge and vision with the best of the insurance sector in London and beyond.

For startups this is an opportunity to meet insurance professionals in an exclusive context, get their feedback and create business opportunities.

Application Process

You can apply to be one of the fifteen startups selected to attend the showcase and pitch event by answering a few simple questions on our F6S page

If you’re selected to go to the next phase, you’ll have a quick call with designswarm who will ask a few questions about your product/idea.

Once you’ve been selected to attend the showcase and pitch event, you’ll receive careful coaching from designswarm to make sure you’re ready for the day and understand everything involved in attending.

Who can apply?

Startups or SMEs with less than £1 million investment and staff of less than 25 employees
You can be based anywhere in the world as long as you can attend the event on the 29th of January in London
You must be developing an internet-connected hardware + software product that is particularly suited  to the insurance sector

What does the showcase and pitch event entail?

If you’re selected to attend on the 29th of January, you will be showcasing your work all day at the conference and give a short pitch if you are one of the five startups shortlisted. The winners will be announced at the end of the conference around 5pm.

Follow us using #insureiot 


Help save iot.london

So there’s a really boring auction going on that I’m taking part in. iot.london is up for auction. As I’ve been running the meetup for three years and own iotlondon.com and .co.uk I’m hoping to win this one. I love the community that has grown around this topic in what I consider to be the best city in the world to develop new products and ideas around this space. I also think noone should commercially be able to brand it. So I’m hoping I’ll win the auction. There are 2 other bidders and we’re up to £205 but there has to be a period of 24h after the last bidder for the auction to end so this could take a while. If you’d like to help me out donate to a dot sonsino at gmail dot com on Paypal. I’ve had some wonderful donations from around the world and would like to particularily thank Russell Davies, Ben Hammersley and Mike Milinkovich from the Eclipse Foundation.

Update: I won! At £225, I won the auction finally after 5 days. I received a total of £580 in donations from the following people:

Matt Webb, Fintan Ryan, Benjamin Cabé, Gianfranco Chicco, Andrew J Savery, Liam Lynch, Benjamin Tomlinson, Gareth Klose, Lawrence Archard, Rob van Kranenburg, Russell Davies, Adrian Godwin, Ben Hammersley, Dan Lockton, Mark Setrem Anna Bradley, David Weaver, Boris Adryan, Nicholas O’Leary.

To all of them, I am very grateful.

I was happy to cover at least £100 of the cost of the URL so with the remaining £455 I will give away cash prizes at our bi-annual London Internet of Things Showcase which will take place on December 16th this year. I hope this pleases everyone.

The cost and time to make things

So last week I launched sales for a limited edition of the Good Night Lamp. This is both an exercise in pig-headedness and a suicidal financial exercise. What prompted this? Next year will mark the 10th anniversary of this idea. There’s only so much time you can spend trying to turn lights on and off, but in those ten years, I’ve learnt a lot about the conditions that need to take place in order to make things.

So I’m making them with an M2M partner Eseye and Tom Cecil who has been making our prototypes since mid-2012. Noone else.

They are retailing for £279 which is shocking some but the truth is that making small batches of things costs a lot more than people think, especially when there’s wood involved which is why we’ll move on, if those 100 sell, to cheaper materials. Why sell 100? Well mostly to live up to expectations, PR during all those years, and for myself as a designer.

Financially, it’s a ridiculous exercise in a way. The average product on a John lewis shelf costs 25% of retail price to make. Retailers usually take a 50-60% cut to place the product on a shelf. This set of lamps is costing between 86% (for EU customers) & 96% (for UK customers) of the retail price in costs and doesn’t include any assembly time. Here’s a handy and honest breakdown.

gnl_100_profits

It’s pretty silly really, but I think they’ll make people happy and work really well. Yes I’ll be assembling them myself or with friends probably, but hey I started Tinker by selling Arduinos in the front room of a flat in Hackney in 2007. Been there, done that. It might become a collectable item, who knows. I’ve got 36 sets left to sell on that batch so tell your friends and head to the website for more details.

Boosting the internet of things in the UK


View IOT companies (UK & Europe) in a larger map

I’ve been putting a map together of internet of things startups in the UK & Europe since May 2012. It’s not that I don’t care about the rest of the world, but as I’ve written about before, there is a real opportunity for the UK to lead on great ideas and businesses in the consumer sector. Building consumer applications isn’t easy, and the support from the investment community in the UK has been limited as they tend to be more comfortable with B2B or industrial applications. But role of crowdfunding and open hardware have contributed to adding variety to the ideas that investors get exposed to after years of apps apps apps. Last week, when I learnt that Xively was to step down as the sponsor of the Internet of Things London Meetup, offers flooded in to replace them.  This is a sign things are changing for the better if you’re a startup in this area.

After helping Tech City UK promote the Technology Strategy Board IOT Launchpad competition last month, we heard that the the number of SMEs that applied was four times what they had expected. So people are willing to give government funding a chance which also implies that other sources of funding are not yet readily available. Hopefully, that too will change.

For those companies who are pre-funding though, we’re helping the Digital Catapult organise a day in Liverpool on October 3rd giving startups free technical advice from experts around all the topics you’d expect them to worry about: manufacturing, electronics engineering, marketing. No it’s not in London, because among other things, Liverpool has a wonderful community led by Adrian of makers & budding entrepreneurs and London will benefit from what we can learn there. So if you’re up for a day trip and need some help, really you ought to consider it.

I find us fortunate to be involved in shaping events like these as we try to bridge the many gaps for startups in the physical/digital world. Learnings from my own product development , we pour back into designing events people will find value in. There’s a lot going on in the UK and we have to celebrate it and nurture it before people get swallowed up by the West Coast like some have in digital startups. Not quite better together, just better here.

Caring about watches again

applewatch

 

So Apple is making a smart watch (let’s call it what it is, “wearable” is too clunky and best used for non-screen connected products). It’ll do well enough with early adopters whenever they launch it and regardless of battery life but more importantly it’ll test one important assumption: is the ability to pay with a watch going to get people to wear them again? Fitness and sharing your presence have failed to get the market excited because they are short-term interactions. People go on diets for weeks or exercise for a few months. Paying for things is an everyday recurring action. Maybe Watch will be the payment card killer? If they come to the UK, paying for the Underground with a watch would beat card clash but readers are all on the left, so not an obvious gesture. Maybe that’ll pave the way for NFC Apple Rings.  Oh the possibilities.

Berg (2005-2014)

This has been a strange day, mostly because some of my friends who have run a really great studio have decided to shut it down, 483 weeks in.

I met them when we were still students, Jack‘s class came to visit mine in Ivrea in April 2005.  The year after he was to design Availabot and I came up with the Good Night Lamp. I visited his RCA degree show which also included the work of Matt Brown (who would move on to work for them) and Andy (who designed most of Little Printer’s hardware) and became a great friend. I had met Timo at Ivrea while he was a visiting professor and remember being very inspired even then.

Almost 10 years on and with the help of Matt Webb, they worked up quite a team. People I admire, friends. Tinker had an office in the same building for many years and I always made sure to have lunch with whomever they’d hired because I knew they’d be smart. I also often hired them as freelancers when they left. They got what connected products could become and illustrated those ideas well. Interaction design, applied. Of their work, my favorites were the simplest projects, nice prints of a distorted New York (which i’m sure influenced Inception’s head of photography), simple yet powerful ideas about travelling and totally dystopian products like Little Printer which I rushed to buy. I used it with care and curiosity to remind myself of the few words of spanish I once knew, to get an etching of a butterfly every morning. Even when it seemed to stop working, I still have it now, next to my TV, unplugged, because it’s strange, it’s pretty and it looks good in my home.

What they tried to build was a real challenge. Middleware for the internet of things is tough. Reviving printing is even tougher. The market isn’t there yet, they’re too used to buying at Hamley’s things that can be explained easily. That isn’t what these guys do. Things are moving fast, but they started this journey a few years ago already. A little too early. That takes vision and courage. Too much of that exists out of sight, in large corporations, and they were small, imperfect, yet perfectly formed to react to today’s changing technological landscape. Because of that, I don’t doubt they’ll all find work quickly but I also hope they keep that spirit with them, the spirit of wanting to start small, perfectly, imperfectly formed companies. The internet of things needs that more than ever.

Berg team, see you soon, I hope.

Smart meters: the glass half empty of the internet of things

As someone who makes a living of talking about and designing connected products, I also try to eat my own dog food. I signed up to Hive last summer after working with British Gas on an event and with EDF for years. I know enough about how the energy sector to be curious. These things aren’t easy to push through, design or deploy.

It cost me £200 and after some teething problems, was very useful in the deepest darkest of winter. I could switch the heating on from the comfort of my bed or as I emerged from the underground and was 20 minutes away from home. Or switch it off remotely. I now almost never interact with my thermostat.

Fast forward to a few months ago and British Gas reached out about the free setup of a smart meter that would give me another display to show how much money I was spending. That seemed useful and I agreed. So they came in last week to set up the new meter and display except as I live on the second floor it turns out the display’s radio signal can’t reach into my home. So if I want to know how much I’m spending I need to put some batteries in and bring the display to the meter which is outside the house.

This doesn’t make any sense. I asked the engineer if they were getting the data, wasn’t there some kind of online dashboard I could interrogate with that same information? No.

Thankfully they had problems provisioning the hardware so had to book another appointment in 2 months to complete setup. I won’t be completing this setup because frankly, connected product solutions that don’t offer consumer value but only offer corporate value should absolutely never be implemented or allowed to be rolled out.

Ideally the engineer should have never even begun the work and simply said: “We can’t get your display to work, so we won’t set it up” and that would be made me feel like they care about their customer’s energy use and not just their data gathering activities.

An even more ideal situation would be for the smart meter to connect to the Hive app and  show me the spending information there .

Implementing connected product solutions is as much about hardware and engineering problems as it is about corporate product development.  Different groups have to learn to interact with each other much more seamlessly, only then can successful customer experiences be designed.

Insurance in the internet of things: the Future Stigma of Data

designswarm_stigma

In May, Ana Bradley joined my consultancy as a Partner and one of the first clients we worked on together was Imago TechMedia. We helped them plan an event for the insurance sector around the internet of things in a half day workshop. The insurance sector is one I’d recently been looking at anyway for a piece of strategy work I’m doing with the BBC R&D North Lab in MediaCityUK. In light of Cory’s post tonight  though I thought I’d share some quick thoughts on the matter.

For the past 4 years, insurance companies have been using connected hardware to offer flexible and dynamically generated premiums in the car industry.

  • In 2010, MyKey was a feature on all new Ford cars which allowed parents to lend their car to their teenager and set parameters of usage.
  • In Germany, all new cars have “black boxes” by default since a government ruling supported this in 2012.
  • These days, companies like Ingenie set up the box on any car for the young driver (17-25 year olds) in your household and charge you premiums according to their driving behaviour

Now they are looking beyond cars and into the world of healthcare insurance (after all they’d been tracking your gym attendance) and what better consumer products to exploit than the emerging bubble of wearables?

This sounds good in principle: if you’re good, and you exercise you premium will be low. But what if you’re bad for just one week because you got dumped by a significant other? You spend less time in the gym and so are automatically penalised, even if you’re doing ok overall.

What if you’re really ill? Then the insurance company might offer you a plethora of connected devices, all in the name of making you pay less while they (via the product company) collect more and more data. If we’ve got issues with the NHS holding our data, well I’m not sure we’d trust insurance providers, after all private companies who own the devices can do whatever they like with the data. Remember that back in 2011, TomTom sold its satnav data to the Dutch police who then used it to set speeding traps and retro-actively send speeding tickets. 

So people start to panic and say “No I don’t want to be traced”. So they are charged more.

And this is where a new divide occurs: a new class system determined by data. The poor are tracked and traced while the rich can afford to pay more for their premiums and for anonymity by extension. This also means wearable companies will be tainted by that industry and will come to mean “i’m too poor to pay or ill for expensive insurance so I wear a connected device”.

Might sound a little Adam Curtis, but that future is what worries me about insurance companies.

Crowdfunding a hardware project: Tips & Tricks

I’ve been getting a lot of requests for coffees from startups who want to hear about crowd funding and the lessons I learnt running a campaign for the Good Night Lamp back in early 2013. I thought I’d capture what I’d say to them here and share it to a wider audience:)

1. What are you?

Before you take this on, have a think about what your product is. Is it a project? Is it a company? Is it a way to get PR for yourself/your consultancy? Is it a way to test the appetite for a corporate R&D idea?
Being self-aware is important in life and in business because it will help you deal with whatever outcome your campaign might have.

  • If you’re a project there might be a lot of value in aiming to do a very small run of the product, say 50-100 and raising money for that. Most successful campaigns sit at the $15 000 mark which is not a lot at all in the world of hardware. So think about what you could do with very small amounts of money.
  • If you’re a company, then see the next bull-it point. You really want to start building up the company pre-campaign.
  • If you’re trying to get PR, well good luck. Journalists are bombarded with requests to write about crowd-funding projects in ways they weren’t a year and a half ago. You may find it easier to reach out to small specialised publications but the audience numbers vary accordingly.
  • If you’re testing a corporate R&D idea, be clever about how you market yourself when smaller teams are trying to raise money on the same site. You’re probably not so fussed about the money, but they are and whatever you go after skews the market for everyone else if it’s too low. Try raising the amount of money that would cover your salary for eg. Also be truthful about your allegiances, it’s ok for you to be there, but let yourself known. A good example of how NOT to do it would be Samsung’s massively overthought lamp which only mentions Samsung in the smallest of print.

2. Talk to investors before.

Running a crowdfunding campaign turns a massive countdown timer on. Once you publish an idea in the public arena, you have a year to protect or patent it (this varies on what you’re building, but look it up) so you want to develop it as far as you can without crowdfunding and with external help: investors. Most early-stage investors (friends and family) will be happy helping you out with small amounts that will get you to the pre-industrialisation stage or past the rendering & prototyping stage. Once you go to crowd-funding, they will stick around and become your allies on what is often a long road to success. Meeting with investors pre-campaign is an important way to let them know you’re serious about the role of crowdfunding as a way to test the appetite for your product. Running a very successful campaign also increases your valuation (if you don’t know what that means go buy “Venture Deals” by Brad Feld straight away). So put a shortlist together and go meet the Partners (try not to waste time with Associates) before you go live and ask them for feedback. They might not want to invest early on but will be good to you if they like the idea. Be aware that making a project public also means potential competitors can learn from your success or failure. You are exposing yourself and your idea to the world with little protection against large corporations who might be looking at your product space. You are their guinea pigs. When LIFX came out with their wifi lightbulb, Philips came out with their within a few weeks. Not a coincidence.

You want to have very clear agreements with everyone working with you (in writing) and budgets planned. If you’re massively successful you need to know in advance how you’ll spend the money, what the timelines are for ordering parts, assembly partners, etc. These are not easy to find so you might as well do the work up front before you have hundreds to thousands of demanding customers waiting after your product.

3. Prepare yourself

The most crucial element of crowdfunding is email. You’ll be glued to your inbox for the duration of your campaign. I used to get up in the middle of the night to make sure I responded to West Coast requests in time for them to see it during their day. An important part of the crowdfunding audience is in America, so you want to cater to them a little. If your project page isn’t clear enough for a non-tech person to understand, you’ll get emails. If it doesn’t explain every single aspect of yoru project, you’ll get emails. You’ll get emails from companies who have chosen crowd-funding projects as a market (marketing, warehousing, manufacturers, etc). Depending on what kind of person you are, you may want to give this task to someone who has experience managing communities online. It’s not a particularly forgiving activity, but you’ll get real feedback on what you’ve put out, both good and bad.

4. Make it easy for the press

If you happen to showcase your product somewhere (we had a booth at CES on campaign launch) while running the campaign, you might meet some journalists who might want to write about what you’re doing. Make it easy for them by having a press link, with a dropbox link to a press release (in .doc format and pdf) and some high resolution (300 dpu) images of your product with a white background. This covers 90% of what journalists need, whether it’s going online or in print. The remaining 10% is interviews you may need to do either online or face to face and those are generally fun. They’re also a good way to practice your elevator pitch which you will learn to repeat like a parrot on crack for months (or years in my case).

5. Money isn’t the problem

Out of all the things your product needs to come to life, money is only one of them. The industry is still quite young and finding talent is difficult. Retailers are starting to get it (John Lewis launched an incubator recently) but technology investors in the UK are still only really interested in investing in businesses already generating revenue. If you’re in the US, you’re in luck (as usual) in that respect but a very limited number of funds are investing in this space. The general public is starting to see interesting connected products hit their Christmas wish lists, but if your product retails for more than £100, you might be in the luxury goods market for now. Connectivity is still expensive and pricing a dark art (usually retail price of RRP is 4 times what it costs you to make the product).

It’s difficult but not impossible to be successful. All you have to do is pace yourself and not expect your campaign to solve all your problems.
Good luck.